It is expected that local government in Somerset will undergo significant changes during the next couple of years under a process known as local government reorganisation (LGR).
For some time, politicians and leadership teams have considered that the current system of local government is costly and inefficient. Local government reorganisation (LGR) aims to increase efficiencies and in doing so will change the way public services are delivered. The process would see the county and four district councils disbanded and either a new single unitary authority or 2 unitary authorities created in their place.
The decisions on what happens in LGR is made by the Government and not the councils themselves. It is the Government that will set its own tests, including the size of any new authorities. If LGR proceeds, the county and district councils will be abolished, and a new system created with newly elected councillors.
Although the shake-up directly affects the principal councils at county and district levels, any changes will inevitably affect the work and services delivered by parish and town councils. Therefore, it is important that we recognise and engage with this opportunity to influence the process of LGR and help shape local service delivery.
In response to LGR, the Somerset Association of Local Councils (SALC) and Society of Local Council Clerks (SLCC) commissioned Mel Usher (formally of Frome Town Council) to consider the experiences of unitary LGR in other areas and to consider the lessons learnt as they affect town and parish councils. The report makes seven recommendations on a future role that town and parish councils could play in meeting the needs of their communities. Both the One Somerset business case and the districts’ Stronger Somerset business case have adopted the recommendations of the report, which can be read here:
Burnham-on-Sea & Highbridge Town Council at its June 2020 meeting resolved to endorse the points raised within the report and recognised the necessity for significant and genuine involvement of the parish sector in any LGR, and to learn the lessons from neighbouring LGRs.
The process for local government reorganisation in Somerset.
The process for LGR formally begins when the Secretary of State invites the principal authorities to submit a business case for re-organising local government.
The county council led, One Somerset business case proposing a single unitary authority, formed according to the existing county council boundary, has been submitted to the Secretary of State. You can learn more about the One Somerset business case on its website, available by following this link: https://onesomerset.org.uk/
The four district councils’ jointly released business case proposes the creation of two unitary authorities covering east and west areas of Somerset. You can learn more about the Stronger Somerset business case on its website by following this link: https://www.strongersomerset.co.uk/
Once both business cases have been received, the Secretary of State will “be minded” to either approve one or reject both cases submitted.
If one of the cases is accepted, a detailed draft plan and timeline for the transition will follow, involving public consultation and extensive discussions between all levels of local government.
If the preferred plan meets with ministerial approval for a second time, a shadow authority is expected to be put in place towards the beginning on 2021 with the new unitary council(s) established in April 2022 and councillor elections in May 2022.